5 years ago

Volume 23 Issue 8 - May 2018

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In this issue: our sixteenth annual Choral Canary Pages; coverage of 21C, Estonian Music Week and the 3rd Toronto Bach Festival (three festivals that aren’t waiting for summer!); and features galore: “Final Finales” for Larry Beckwith’s Toronto Masque Theatre and for David Fallis as artistic director of Toronto Consort; four conductors on the challenges of choral conducting; operatic Hockey Noir; violinist Stephen Sitarski’s perspective on addressing depression; remembering bandleader, composer and saxophonist Paul Cram. These and other stories, in our May 2018 edition of the magazine.

VOCAL One Voice –

VOCAL One Voice – Greatest Hits Vol.2 Echo Women’s Choir Independent ( !! Echo is a choir of women based in Toronto, cultivating in its own words “the beautiful, rich and powerful sound of adult women’s voices.” Co-directed by community music-maker (and past music director at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, the home of Echo) Becca Whitla and singer and choral conductor Alan Gasser, the 27-year-old choir has grown to 80 voices while committed to inclusivity and diversity in membership and repertoire. Echo’s second album One Voice: Greatest Hits Volume 2 provides vivid live concert recordings of 25 favourite songs from its past 16 years. The choir’s commitment to social justice rings true in several selections. Just two examples: the anti-war anthem Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream penned by Ed McCurdy in 1950, and You Will Be Free, set by Gasser with words by South African religious leader and human rights activist Desmond Tutu. Among the things that attract me to Echo’s repertoire is its warm-hearted global embrace. In addition to original Canadian compositions – I’d like to mention Echo’s premiere of the choral version of my own North of Java in its formative years – it also covers traditional folk song arrangements from several regions of Europe, Africa and the Americas. The album’s global journey ends with the stirring gospel song Everything Will Be Alright by the Grammy Award-winning Rev. Dr. James Cleveland. It’s a passionate downtown Toronto rendition of the African- American Baptist original, its positive message echoing through my speakers. Andrew Timar Handel’s Last Prima Donna: Giulia Frasi in London Ruby Hughes; Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment; Laurence Cummings Chaconne CHSA 0403 ( !! There have in recent years been many CDs consisting of solos or duets taken from the operas and oratorios of Handel. Such recordings always carry the danger of becoming merely a heterogeneous collection of extracts. A number of CDs have rectified this by concentrating on those roles created by particular performers. The CD reviewed here carries that strategy further by giving us a portrait of the soprano Giulia Frasi, who created several roles in Handel’s late oratorios but also sang in works by Vincenzo Ciampi, Thomas Arne, John Christopher Smith and Philip Hayes (extracts from works by these composers are included here). Many of these works were composed after Handel’s death in 1759 and, as David Vickers points out in an informative accompanying essay, they show how music moved from the high Baroque to the style of J.C. Bach and Haydn. We don’t know much about what kind of singer Frasi was. My sense is that she had a bigger voice than Ruby Hughes, who is a lovely lyrical soprano. Most of the arias are slow and are designed to evoke pathos. This no doubt reflects the kind of parts that Frasi was asked to sing. The only aria which allows the singer to show her virtuosity is from Arne’s Alfred. It was written for Frasi as part of the 1753 revival of the work and is given the marking allegrissimo. The singing and orchestral playing are both very fine on this disc. The members of the orchestra are not listed; if they had been, I would have singled out the splendid first oboist. Hans de Groot Rossini – Ricciardo e Zoraide Marianelli; Mironov; Bills; Di Pierro; Beltrami; Camerata Bach Choir, Poznan; Virtuosi Brunensis; José Miguel Pérez- Sierra Naxos 8.660419-21 ( !! By the year 1818, the 26-yearold Rossini was well on his way to becoming the most successful composer of opera in the Appenine Peninsula (i.e. today’s Italy). He left Venice in 1815 with a dozen operas written, including two masterpieces, and – via Milan, Rome and a few more masterpieces – he arrived in Naples with a lucrative contract from Teatro San Carlo, Naples’ resplendent opera house that rivalled Milan’s La Scala. He was a busy man, working furiously and fast, composing three operas per year plus looking after productions of his earlier works in Rome, Milan and Venice. He was already a rich man and he also married his leading lady Isabella Colbran, a smart move in more ways than one. Of Rossini’s 39 operas, Ricciardo e Zoraide is the 25th now being recorded by Naxos. A heroic opera based on legends attached to Ariosto’s epic poems about Orlando and the Paladin knights of Charlemagne, it is quite long. The plot is unwieldy and unremarkable, but the music is forward-looking, “with dark-light contrasts, sophisticated melodic invention and the deployment of physical stage,” like the use of off-stage orchestras for spatial effects for the first time. This top-quality recording has some spectacular voices, mainly tenors (of whom Rossini had an abundant supply), with the two rival lovers Maxim Mironov (Ricciardo) and Randall Bills (Agorante) outdoing each other in vocal acrobatics. Of the ladies, Alessandra Marianelli has the Colbran role as Zoriade, the damsel in distress, and Silvia Beltrami (mezzo-soprano) is the jealous queen; both gorgeous voices. When the four appear together expressing their conflicting emotions, Rossini exercises his heavenly powers in ensemble writing – later inherited and made immortal by (at the time) a certain five-year-old boy, Giuseppe Verdi. Janos Gardonyi CLASSICAL AND BEYOND A Tribute to Telemann La Spagna; Alejandro Marias Lukos Records 5451CRE80843 ( ! ! Describing Georg Philipp Telemann’s achievements as prolific is a gross understatement: his compositions numbered over 3,000. La Spagna selects five from this enormous output, aiming to restore Telemann to the highest ranks of composers. The first Ouverture-Suite for viola da gamba, strings and continuo is quintessentially French, comprising several traditional French Baroque movements. Telemann had access to pieces by the French composer Lully, as well as a great love for the viola da gamba (for which he composed frequently). The enthusiasm of the solo violinists who play on period, if anonymous, violins is key to this opening piece, especially the Gigue. The Concerto for recorder, viola da gamba, strings and continuo which follows is inspired by Telemann’s scoring for recorder, in this case copying an instrument by the renowned Thomas Stanesby. Listen in particular to the Dolce and Allegro as interpreted by Alvaro Marías. Though the recorder was under pressure as an instrument from the transverse flute at the time, Telemann continued to believe in its rich, sonorous sound. In the essentially Italian Concerto grosso, La Spagna takes the liberty of writing an additional part for the second tutti (nonsolo) violins. Here once again the demands of two literally lively (Vivace) movements are met cheerfully – the two solo violins absolutely sparkle. And so to the Ouverture-Suite Burlesque de 72 | May 2018

Quixotte. Telemann composes a day of events inspired by Cervantes’ masterpiece, from Quixote’s waking, his assault on the windmills, his advances on Princess Dulcinea and retiring for the night. The assault comprises a vigorous twirling of violins personifying Quixote’s bravado; the advance’s somewhat languid string-playing indicates another failure for Quixote. You begin to feel sorry for him – but invigorated by La Spagna’s tribute to Telemann. Michael Schwartz Beethoven – Symphonies 5 & 7 New York Philharmonic; Jaap van Zweden Decca Gold B0027956-02 ( !! What better way of celebrating a new partnership between a record label and a renowned American orchestra than music by Beethoven? The label in question – Decca Gold, Universal’s new classical music label – recently joined forces with the esteemed New York Philharmonic to present a series of live recordings under the direction of Jaap van Zweden, who assumes the official role of music director in September 2018. This recording is the first in the projected series and features Beethoven’s Symphonies Five and Seven, recorded in 2014 and 2015. The two symphonies were indeed excellent choices for this premiere recording. As clichéd as the opening measure of the Fifth Symphony has become (“fate knocking at the door”), the work’s theme of tragedy to triumph still has the power to move the most impartial listener, and the NYP delivers a polished and compelling performance. Tempos – particularly in the first movement and the finale – are brisk (perhaps brisker than we’re accustomed to), but the third movement is all lyricism before the exuberant finale. Wagner once described the Symphony No.7 as “the apotheosis of the dance” and under van Zweden’s baton, this performance is a joyful dance indeed. The warmth of the NYP strings is particularly evident in the secondmovement Allegretto while the finale – a true tour de force – is treated with great bravado. While both these symphonies have long been considered standard repertoire, van Zweden and the NYP breathe new life into them, approaching each with a particular freshness and vitality. These performances easily hold their place alongside more established recordings and if they are any indication, the soon-to-be pairing of van Zweden and the NYP will be a formidable one indeed. Highly recommended. Richard Haskell Flute Passion: Schubert Nadia Labrie; Mathieu Gaudet Analekta AN 2 8787 ( !! Flutist Nadia Labrie and pianist Mathieu Gaudet’s all-Schubert CD begins with a transcription of the intensely and ominously dramatic Arpeggione Sonata. The quiet simplicity and dignity of Gaudet’s solo opening of the first movement is carried forward by Labrie’s velvet sound, exquisite phrasing and moments of rubato, which convey a brooding feeling of inevitably encroaching doom. She plays the hymnlike second movement with a simplicity and directness which is both heartrending and deeply satisfying. The second part of the program consists of lieder transcriptions, mostly from Die Schöne Müllerin. There are some wonderful moments in these eight miniature masterpieces, most notably the meshing of the artists’ vision in the counterpoint of Ständchen (from Schwanengesang). However, there is also the unfortunate intrusion at times of that “flutistic” mannerism of changing tone colour in the middle of a note for no good reason and the missed opportunity to use contrasting colours for the two characters in Der Müller und der Bach. The third and final component is the Introduction and Variations on Trockne Blumen, composed for flute and piano by Schubert himself. While both artists are brilliant here, the poignant darkness of the song (“...the flowers...she gave me...shall be laid with me in the grave.”) could have been more effectively brought to life by greater contrast in tempo and a less dance-like interpretation of the melody. Nevertheless, this CD has a lot going for it. Gaudet and Labrie are both virtuosos who work well together. I’m sure we will hear more from them. Allan Pulker Brahms – Symphony No.2 Stavanger Symphony Orchestra; Thomas Zehetmair SSO Recordings 3816-2 ( !! This disc arrived in a simple but elegant package, but without any program notes or promo blurb, save basic info and credits. Listening to it, however, with an open mind and ear, it made me fall in love with the piece all over again and made me wonder how this very familiar work could have been played to death in concerts so much that once a friend said to me at intermission:” Janos, do you really expect me to sit through another Brahms Second?!” and left. Sometimes dubbed the Pastoral, in sunny D Major, this most congenial of Brahms’ four symphonies is found here in the hands of Thomas Zehetmair. A noted Austrian concertviolinist-turned-conductor, Zehetmair’s What we're listening to this month: From The Alvin Curran Fakebook Curran; Schiaffini; C. Neto; Armaroli A personal soundscape of instrumental and ambient sounds collected in nearly sixty years of musical research, where conventional writing and improvisation coexist The Bee Polka Dogs The revived, renascent, and reformed Toronto theatre-based band, THE POLKA DOGS, have returned and are proud to release this new cd entitled The Bee! Climb Up Elon Turgeman New Album released by Elon Turgeman, Israeli Jazz pioneer, featuring Adam Nussbaum; Music that will satisfy even the most demanding Jazz fan! Le tombeau de Poulenc Jean-Christophe Cholet, Alban Darche, Matthias Ruëgg & grand ensemble The instrumentation creates a jazz orchestra or concertino sound, a form that will echo Poulenc's work: the concerto for two pianos and orchestra May 2018 | 73

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